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CEPI partners with consortium of Bharat Biotech, University of Sydney and ExcellGene to develop ‘variant-proof’ COVID-19 vaccine

CEPI will fund the researchers to conduct activities including immunogen design, pre-clinical studies, manufacturing process development and a phase-I clinical trial

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The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) yesterday announced the latest award under its $200 million programme to advance the development of vaccines that provide broad protection against SARS-Cov-2 variants and other beta corona viruses. CEPI will provide funding of up to $19.3 million to support the development of a ‘variant-proof’ SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate to an international multidisciplinary consortium comprising Bharat Biotech, India; the University of Sydney, Australia; and ExcellGene SA, Switzerland.

CEPI’s funding will support the consortium as it seeks to establish pre-clinical and clinical proof of concept for an adjuvanted subunit vaccine designed to provide broad protection against all known SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, as well as future variants of the virus which have not yet emerged. CEPI will fund the researchers to conduct activities including immunogen design, pre-clinical studies, manufacturing process development and a phase-I clinical trial.

In this new vaccine design, modified trimeric spike immunogens will be produced in a robust and scalable process with high purity and yield at low cost, based on a biomanufacturing approach that has provided significant quantities of protein therapeutics to the world. This strategy could also be used to enable rapid development of broadly protective vaccines against other beta corona viruses, as well as vaccines against Disease X—unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that emerge in the future.

CEPI is committed to the principle of equitable access to the vaccines it funds. Under the terms of the funding agreement, the consortium partners have committed to achieve equitable access to the outputs of this project, in line with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy.

Speaking in this regard, Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO, CEPI, said, “As repeated waves of COVID-19 infection remind us, we will be living alongside the virus for many years to come. The threat of a new variant emerging that might evade the protection of our current vaccines is real. So, investing in R&D for variant-proof SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is a global health security imperative. Our partnership with Bharat Biotech, University of Sydney and ExcellGene will advance the development of a vaccine candidate to protect against future variants of COVID-19, potentially contributing to the long-term control of the virus.”

Adding to it, Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Biotech, said, “Bharat Biotech has successfully commercialised a universal COVID-19 vaccine for adults and children. While current generation of vaccines are safe and effective against currently known variants, it is imperative that we focus on innovation for multi-epitope vaccines, where a single vaccine can protect against all future variants. Our expertise in product development and innovation, especially with novel adjuvants and platform technologies, will add to the strong partnership with CEPI, ExcellGene, and the University of Sydney.”

Professor James Triccas, Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases, The University of Sydney, said, “We are delighted to partner with CEPI to progress our platform for the development of broadly protective COVID-19 vaccines. Our mission is to deliver safe, affordable and highly-effective vaccines to combat the existing and future SARS-CoV-2 variants, and our international consortium is well placed to achieve this goal. The University of Sydney will provide a framework for pre-clinical assessment of vaccine candidates, together with access to Australia’s world-class early phase clinical trial community.”

Dr Maria J Wurm, CEO, ExcellGene, said, “Our technological platform for innovative protein designs was used in the past to identify and manufacture an antigen for an Ebola candidate vaccine, resulting in sterilising immunity in pre-clinical challenge models. For the current COVID-19 project, we are using similar approaches to generate numerous antigen preparations derived from spike protein variants of SARS-CoV-2, focussing eventually on the most promising antigen for vaccine purposes. Obtaining funding and scientific advice from CEPI to further our ongoing collaborations with the University of Sydney and Bharat Biotech is an exciting and most gratifying perspective and will, we hope, contribute towards the science for this and other novel protein-based vaccines.”

The emergence of corona virus combining the transmissibility of COVID-19 with the lethality of SARS or MERS would be catastrophic. So, developing vaccines that provide broad protection against the whole beta corona virus genus is vital to our global health security. CEPI is working closely with partners to advance work in this area as quickly as possible.

The award announced is the ninth programme to be funded by CEPI to advance the development of vaccines that provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other beta corona viruses. This work forms an important part of CEPI’s next five-year plan which aims to reduce or even eliminate the future risk of pandemics and epidemics.

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